Professional Perspectives

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Managing Animal Enrichment and Training Programs - Fall 2012

By Sheela Hira 
Conservation and Science Manager, Knoxville Zoo 

Last Fall I had the privilege of taking the Managing Animal Enrichment and Training Programs professional development course. About two hours in to my seven and a half hour drive, I had a disastrous run in with a deer on the interstate. Sadly, neither the deer nor my rental survived the encounter. I was towed to a rental office about an hour away (back in the direction I came, of course). And as I sat outside their locked office, surrounded by the contents of my car (hoping they really would be back in 15 minutes), I looked up at the black clouds that were starting to spill and thought “Man! This class better be worth it!”

And I have to say it was definitely worth it, and then some. This course had what you would expect from the title. There was content on enrichment and training theories and practices, as well as other focused topics. We did case studies, had time for group discussions, and yes, we had homework. But what really made this learning experience unique was that it was tailor made for the 27 students participating. The instructors got to know each of us through questionnaires and emails and had a good sense of our knowledge base and needs as a group before any of us ever drove up to the deer populated grounds of Oglebay Resort in Wheeling (yes, the deer mocked me all week). Because of this attention, the topics covered were those that were most beneficial to us. 

Also unique in this MAETP course was that it was designed to help us long after we came home with our diplomas. Presentation topics included training us in ways to implement our ideas. They didn’t just say “Hey! You’re now as smart as you need to be…” and shove us out the door. Included in our training were methods in how to achieve the best success as managers of enrichment and training within our facilities, how to work through challenging situations, and how to be confident in ourselves as advocates. And even armed with all of this, if we still hit road blocks, we were gifted with a listserv dedicated to the members of our class, including our instructors!

I came away from this experience inspired. At our facility, we have already begun redefining the role of our Enrichment Representatives. Our departments are becoming re-invested in the process and outcomes of enrichment and training goals and evaluation, as we look at them again together with fresh eyes. We are even introducing a professional development element into our monthly enrichment meetings, where we will work on such things as skills development, academic advancement, evaluation methods, efficient workplace and resource use, and trouble shooting, to name a few.

After a week’s worth of deer jokes, I can still say I’m incredibly grateful for having been given the opportunity to attend this class.This is a resource well worth grabbing!